Food Traceability Systems

From Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (

Traceability Systems

Food traceability systems are record keeping   procedures, or tracing systems, that record the path of a food product or an   ingredient in a food product from its initial supplier through all processing   stages until it reaches the end consumer.A traceability system allows the food industry to:

  •   Promptly locate and remove unsafe products in case of a recallOnionLabel
  •   Protect brand reputation — keeping precise records allows companies to quickly identify and recall only unsafe products, reducing the scope of a  recall, demonstrating good corporate citizenship and a high level of concern for public health, therefore limiting negative media exposure and perhaps even turning it positive
  •   Minimize the size of a recall and reduce the cost incurred in recovering or disposing of products in the marketplace
  •   Diagnose problems in production and determine liability where relevant — traceability can help resolve process problems and   determine third-party responsibility if records show that an ingredient supplier or co-packer was the source of the recalled ingredient. Although the manufacturer of the final product is still responsible for the recall, complete records tracing ingredients to their sources may allow seeking indemnification from responsible third parties
Characteristics of a Traceability SystemBasic characteristics of a traceability system include:

  • Identification of units/batches of all ingredients and products. Basic to all supply chain technology is to identify the objects that move, like pallets, packages and units of product. The simplest type of identification is a label with a written name or number. Machine readable labels are widely used by the industry so products can be automatically scanned, identified and recorded.
  • Information on each ingredient, including the date (code) and the supplier.
  • Linkages to all data collected as part of a system. Once a unit or batch is labeled, the information recorded for it must provide links to the history of the product and the origins of its ingredients. In a simple system, the information relates to the path a product followed through the chain of manufacture, distribution and retail.
Types of Traceability Systems Traceability systems can be manual or computer based. Small companies manufacturing limited numbers of products with simple formulas, short shelf-lives and fewer customers may find paper-based, manual systems adequate. Large companies may find computerized systems more reliable and efficient. Computerized systems can help:

  •  Speed data and product handling
  •  Reduce errors
  •  Reduce paper waste
  •  Track product movements precisely

The Traceability Process: An Example

Several steps can be followed to establish a tracing system:

  •   Receipt of raw materials, ingredients or packaging   materials record information in a logbook, check product specifications and assign a lot number.
  •   Use of raw materials, ingredients and packaging   material for production — when products are used in processing, link them to the manufacturing process by logging information such as units used, recipes, work order numbers, dates and times.
  •   Packaging finished product — include a code that allows products to be grouped and links to the information recorded by the tracing system.
  •   Shipping finished products to clients or customers — products are grouped on pallets or in boxes and given separate identification codes for use in dispatch and subsequent handling in the supply chain.

Buying food products means placing trust in the producers and processors. One way producers earn that trust is by being able to trace every ingredient they use. Traceability systems rely on recording information accurately. Employees play a major role in ensuring food is traceable and those who do not follow established food traceability policies place the integrity of all food processors at risk. Training employees is essential to increase awareness, understanding and competence in food preparation and traceability.

Importance of Traceability in the Food Industry 

A proper traceability system allows recalled products to be removed from the marketplace quickly.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires food operators to document the names and addresses of their suppliers and customers, as well as the nature of the product and date of delivery. Operators are also encouraged to keep information on the volume or quantity of a product, the batch number and more detailed descriptions of the product, such as whether it is raw or processed. In the event of a recall, producers must be able to provide this information to the CFIA. Their office of food safety and recall can be contacted in Manitoba at 204-229-9896.

Verification of Traceability Systems It is a good idea to verify that a traceability system works well before it is needed. Being able to identify recalled products quickly helps control the scope of the recall and helps with removing the products from distribution quickly and accurately. To do this, you must be able to trace your raw ingredients, packaging materials and   finished products.If you cannot identify a specific ingredient, you may have to recall more product than is necessary. Incorrect identification of a product during a first recall is likely to lead to subsequent recalls.Traceability systems need to be checked to determine if they meet the following objectives:

  •   Provide traceability forwards and backwards
  •   Include all raw materials, ingredients and packaging materials
  •   Give a response in an appropriate time
  •   Provide simple and readable traceability information to the consumer
  •   In some cases, provide information back to the farm level

CFIA has developed a guide to help in the event of a food recall. It is available on the Internet at You can use the guide to help perform a mock recall to identify and correct problems with your recall plans.